Impact and Benefit Agreements (IBAs) seek to address the impacts a mine will have on a community and the environment and set the ground rules for a relationship between the community and a mining company.
Law or policy does not require iBAs, but many companies may seek to negotiate IBAs voluntarily in order to establish a positive relationship. The parties of an IBA may include the mining company, the aboriginal community and, depending upon the situation, the government and non-aboriginal communities.
Most IBAs are entered into with respect to proposed mining developments, they can be entered into to address exploration activities on Aboriginal Territory.
IBAs typically deal with:
- employment and training
- economic development, contracting and business opportunities
- financial provisions and equity participation
- social, cultural, and community support
- environmental protection
- protecting cultural resources and values, subsistence economic activities and traditional lifestyles
- monitoring social, environmental and cultural impacts of the mining project.
IBAs usually begin with a preamble, which outlines the general, principles and objectives of the parties involved. This could include a statement that the parties wish to minimize the negative impacts on both the environment and the community. Such a statement can also be put in a 'purpose' section at the beginning of the agreement. This preamble can be used to interpret the rest of the agreement, and should be referred as an aid of interpretation.
Any environmental protection provisions that are included in the IBA are in addition to any of the legislation requirements, or conditions attached to permits and authorizations. An IBA can require the company to identify alternative methods and locations for environmentally destructive activities. There can be requirements related to harmful products and materials, and plans for environmental mitigation or remedial work. The IBA should also be able to address mitigation measures for unanticipated impacts, and can impose abandonment and reclamation requirements. An IBA can also require that the mining company conduct environmental studies, protect wildlife areas, and respect the rights of aboriginal parties.
IBAs are complex agreements and it is important that the agreement reflect the interests of the aboriginal community. IBAs are a means of integrating community concerns and participation into the mine development and closure processes so as to ensure that the communities closest to the mine benefit from it.
One of the challenges that arises after an IBA is negotiated is to create the mechanisms to enforce it. A commitment to hire community members can be meaningless if the employment criteria do not recognise the local situation, e.g. insisting on formal educational requirements rather than training community members to do the jobs, and racial discrimination is a persistent problem. And while employment brings many benefits, it can also result in new social problems.
In focusing only on the IBAs aboriginal communities risk getting sucked into the system and losing sight of the big picture. Companies are often willing to provide jobs and training as a form of individualised economic benefit to community members, but this is problematic for many First Nations. It assumes that entry into an economy based on wage employment --in what tend to be particularly brutal, alienating and toxic jobs-- is a necessity. It also assumes that economic benefits should be provided to individuals rather than to the community as a whole. Aboriginal communities should have the right and the ability to say no to mineral development when they so choose, or to receive a share of the enormous profits that are made from the resources located in their land to use as they see fit.